We announced recently that we’re looking for a new blogger to replace Antonia Malchik and that those who applied would get a spot to do a guest post. First up is Brian Spencer, who has been an editor at About.com, IgoUgo, and sports site Empty the Bench. But that’s not the real story…

dream trip of a lifetimeAsk 50 travelers to define their dream vacation, and you’ll probably get 50 different answers: a wildlife safari through Botswana’s Okavango Delta, riding the rails across the European countryside, relaxing in a thatched-roof hut on a remote island in French Polynesia. I’d never put much thought to it myself… until recently, when my travel outlook for 2010 suddenly, improbably, brightened.

Everybody enters sweepstakes now and again; nobody expects to win. Some question whether anybody wins at all. Well, people do win, at least in the case of Lonely Planet’s recent “Subscribe and Win” competition, which promised US$10,000 worth of travel money to an email subscriber who, in 20 words or less, best described a feature they’d like to see in future LP newsletters. There were “thousands of great entries,” but in the end the lucky winner was… yours truly.

No joke.

I was naturally skeptical when I opened the email (subject: “Lonely Planet Subscribe and Win Competition – Winner Annoucement”). I carefully read it at least five times, Googled the sender’s name, and finally thought to check LP’s website for verification. And there, unbelievably, was my name and my winning entry listed as the first-prize winner. My head buzzed with the realization that no corner of the world, no matter the location nor the cost, would be off limits. Wow.

Where do you go when you can go anywhere?

Since that fateful January morning, my girlfriend and I have been in somewhat of a dream (vacation)-like state, endlessly fantasizing about how to best take advantage of my insane luck. Japan by bullet train! South African wine country and safari! The beaches of Fiji! It still seems too good to be true, and it’ll probably feel that way until we board our plane bound for… we’re undecided.

It’s coming down to a process of elimination. Southeast Asia, as much as we love it, is probably out since we’ve vacationed there twice and recently spent 8 months living in Bangkok, which afforded opportunities to visit parts of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan we hadn’t previously seen. Plus, we know we’ll be back sooner rather than later.

Europe, particularly during the summer months, would be lovely, but for some reason doesn’t especially scream “dream trip.” Australia and New Zealand, in a weird way, seem too close to home despite being nearly 10,000 miles away from New York. North America as a whole isn’t anywhere on our list. That’s hardly enough to narrow it down, but it’s a start, and yes, I realize this is a good problem to have.

Travel writer Alexia Nestora recently completed a study entitled “The Trip of a Lifetime Travel Report 2010,” which sought to determine the “motivations and preferences behind vacations that are considered ‘a trip of a lifetime.'” Her findings aren’t far off from our thinking:

Seeing the World Wonders, safaris and rain forest expeditions are the top experiences travelers are most interested in for a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Seventy percent of respondents said they are most interested in visiting natural and man-made wonders on a once-in-a-lifetime trip such as Machu Picchu, the Pyramids or Victoria Falls. Beyond that, 53% said they were very interested in going on safari and 42% were very interested in a rainforest expedition.

(Download the full report for free here.)

Now that I’ve had a few weeks to think about it, I guess this is how I’d define my dream trip: exotic, far away, well outside the normal budget, extended travel time, touches of luxury (but not exclusively high-end), a mix of city scenery and natural landscapes, and having my favorite travel partner there with me.

I’ll let you know once we’ve made our final decision. For now, I’d love to hear where you’d go and what you’d do if you could travel anywhere in the world.

– Brian Spencer

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Tim Leffel is author of five travel books, including Travel Writing 2.0, and A Better Life for Half the Price, on living abroad. He is editor of Perceptive Travel webzine and this blog. He splits his time between Guanajuato, Mexico and Tampa Bay. See his writing portfolio, awards, and links to his books at TimLeffel.com.